Tuesday, January 31, 2006


as for name calling…

the thing with titles is that they accomplish two things for better or for worse: they acknowledge accomplishments and they set people apart.

my friend and i were discussing via email the awkwardness that comes over one when he/she finds him/herself with a designation for the first time. for example, being called pastor for the first time can be much like the first time someone calls you sir or ma'am... you look behind you to see who the person with the title is, only to find out that it is you who is being addressed- then you do a quick eye check to see whether the person addressing you is serious or joking.

why does someone observe formalities in our increasingly informal culture?

i mean, i find myself sounding like that sea turtle in finding nemo: "mr turtle is my father, dude..." i cringe when i meet a former student who has been out of school for four or five years already, get the 'hi mr beggar...' thing. for a long time i used to try to reshape these salutations ('it's okay, just call me jolly now, okay?') with little or no success... and then i realized two things simultaneously:

relationships are not defined by titles and titles only identify relationships.

the adults who still insist on calling me mr beggar are friends who have come to know me as that over a lengthy period of time and interaction- and the formality is an extension into their adult life of a respect that they embraced as young people. rather than dodging that one, a person should hear it as an affirmation of the role that he or she played in the life of another. let's face it: there would be no greeting at all if you hadn't mattered.

but now add to that the degree of formalized spiritual authority that is inherent in being called pastor and watch someone as self-conscious as so many people are squirm- especially if it is a newly accepted role/calling for them. it was really hard to get used to the pastor jolly thing...

(all that self-centred i’m not worthy of that title crap- that’s when i started typing in small letters… i think it was originally to be righteously small-case and intentionally- yet pretentiously- selfless. now it is simply a matter of convenience.)

...but God finally asked me why i was being so self-centred.

i said “what?”

he said “well the word pastor says something about me and what i’m doing through you- why does everything have to be about you? the word pastor says you’re about me and i’m about you…”

“oh- uh- okay.”

i know that, since visiting sri lanka last summer, my whole take on the title has changed and deepened further in this reading of it. there i heard old friends who were battling the same religious, political and social forces in the name of God acknowledging the call of God upon each other's lives in the same way that soldiers in the heat of war, fighting to keep each other alive, might still refer to each other by rank. the rank and reference pay tribute to not only the credentials but the affiliation, embracing the fact that these men and women are fighting together on the same side for the same things and all have specific jobs which are more completely defined in combat.

so what about calling someone close to you pastor? this was also part of the discussion with my friend who was sharing an awkwardness on the giving end similar to that which one experiences on the receiving end of such a designation. although we read in ephesians 4.11-12 that there are many callings (there are those who are called to do works of service and those who are called to prepare those who are called to these works, that the kingdom would be built up) we still place them in some sort of order. even though 1 corinthians 12.4-6 states it plainly that

there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

we still find ourselves jockeying for position, taking all the figurative language in scripture about jewels in crowns too literally and once again relying on our own resources rather than God's grace to establish our place.

i think that most of it has to do with our hierarchical thinking: we still wrestle with this completely human notion that pastors or leaders must somehow be ahead or above the other servants in the kingdom. in fact, the relationships of the gifts and the gifted appear to be spiritually symbiotic- everyone's role makes everyone else's role in the cosmos both possible and meaningful. just as my father, for example, has been called by God to go 'welding for Jesus' (not the real name for the missionary organization in which he, in the early years of his retirement, has become actively involved), i've been called to 'shepherd the flock'- some of which are or will be welding for Jesus. our roles in the kingdom are as different as we are, but equally as complementary... i think that that's God's point.

yet in perfect symmetry to the complex structures that characterize virgil's and dante's poetic musings on the notion of hierarchical hells (haven't read pergatory or paradise yet), human beings have also created a hierarchical heaven that begins here on earth with people exploiting other people in order to make a name for themselves in God's book. i don't believe it works that way for real, and in the gaze of the one true God, nothing false will stand.

the rest of the email to my friend is too troublesome to try to reword, so i've just copied and pasted it below:

the point is to just be you and listen to God the Holy Spirit when he prompts you to consider not only what you do or say but why. perhaps you are being challenged to acknowledge the spiritual authority of your pastor(s) in order to hear from God through them. perhaps you are being challenged to let the holy spirit speak through your pastors and God knows what you need to do in order to hear his words. i don’t know… it could simply be that as long as you keep things ‘informal’ between you and God’s shepherd leaders you continue to hear only the men rather than the God of the men. i’m not talking about pedestalizing anyone, just acknowledging that God is using them to do things beyond anything that they could accomplish on their own, and that he intends to use you in the same way, but cannot as long as a heart has its reservations.

in other words, just don’t allow nicknames or titles to deflect away the message of God as it comes through someone whom he has called to deliver it.

it occurs to me that another interesting question might be:
what should people call you?

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Blogger curious servant said...

Great post.

I'm trying to write something about why we feel we need to be recognized, valued, made important, right now. It's about half finished.

I think we crave attention, recognition, because we were designed to get it from God.

Great post.

Oh yes... thank you so much for the in depth and challenging comment on my last post. I really appreciate the effort you took to help the discussion there.

Blogger curious servant said...

Thank you for the great somment on my blog!

You always push the conversation up a notch!

Blogger SocietyVs said...

Titles and formality, I guess I don't mind them, they are signposts of who we are. My challenge is the very structure of the church, that hierarchy you mentioned. Where a title has to be made then leading to division from pastor to congregation.
My contention is that the titles do exist, on a real level, we are who we are and that cannot be stripped away only realized. But the structure has created division that has lead to these titles, and the law was followed but the spirit of it may have been denied...not by you, but by many.
I guess I am asking, even with the titles, bestowed by the church structure to which people belong, this even belonging to the gov't who bestows it's authority onto it, has the structure lost it's touch?
I know the structure is happening to create something I never realized until leaving the church for 6 years...seperation. Seperation of leaders from the congregation, seperation from church people and 'the world' and lastly, seperation of reality and spirituality. These things exist only because of the structure, which to me seems quite the business structure and adopted from this generation around us, not from the texts we read.
So you wanna be a pastor? Do you wanna pray for the never-ending needs of these people? Will you challenge the structure when you realize it doesn't even know if the rules they follow have a basis? I think being a pastor is a good thing...just enlighten the people and let them realize they aren't 'employees' but co-workers in your faith, brothers & sisters.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

"...let them realize they aren't 'employees' but co-workers in your faith, brothers & sisters."

exactly. there are no second class citizens in God's kingdom. just people sorting out what it means to live life sacramentally. i remember reading, years ago, the words of paul y cho (pastor of this monster church in korea) and just letting them sink in:

God has no favourite children.

so much for the charmed lives of the west, with all the presumption and affluence and 'blessing.' so much for the 'church boss' or the codependent preacher...

(we don't have to think very hard to come up with stereotypes, but they are based on real people we've known, yeah?)

as people come under the grace of the cross of Christ, there is a levelling that must needs take place. this or that person may be going through some stuff or may seemingly have it all together; may be really smart or talented or may be fighting off demons daily just to stay alive... the rhetoric of opposites can go on and on. the point is that every person is worth dying for. Jesus established that.

likewise, if every person is worth dying for, then every person has a place in God's larger picture. 'leadership' is just one of many jobs that need to be done by people who deserved damnation but were given freedom.


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